Marc Louvion has built 16 startups in two years. His latest, ShipFast, makes around $50,000 per month.
While a fantastic accomplishment by any measure, it’s short of where Marc believed he’d be today. Six years ago, armed with a computer science degree and (what he believed was) a brilliant idea, he began his entrepreneurial career with all the cheerful hubris of a Neumann or Zuckerberg.
A year later, with no customers or investment, Marc was puzzled. If his billion-dollar idea wasn’t to blame – which he’ll probably never know – was it his approach to entrepreneurship? His schoolteachers and university tutors had assured him that good ideas always got good grades. So what happened?
Six years of building and countless failures later, Marc believes his past naivety the result of a formal education that failed to instill the virtues and abilities that builders like him need. Today, he builds in public, not to show people the “right” way, but to inspire his 50,000 followers to chase their dreams.
ShipFast is Marc’s most successful business. It’s also an extension of his philosophy. By selling his do-it-yourself app-launching pack, he subtly extols the virtues of building multiple projects and letting customers decide which are the most successful (not a teacher, industry expert, or even oneself).
Whether it’s magical boots in World of Warcraft or a git clone helping entrepreneurs succeed, Marc has never stopped building and probably never will. He just wishes he’d have taken better care of himself – and not listened so much to what the self-proclaimed experts say.
Read on to discover why Marc believes some entrepreneurs – perhaps even yourself – should spend more time building and less time on theory to get the best chance of success.
The Little Engineer
Marc grew up in Nogent-sur-Marne, a little town outside of Paris. He spent most of his childhood building huts in the woods near his home. When not turning branches into forts, he’d sit on the floor in his bedroom building intricate models from LEGO bricks. Even as a child, Marc knew he wanted to be an engineer, a maker, someone with the power to turn ideas into things.
“I’ve always enjoyed the process of building things,” Marc said. “I would spend hours building legos just to look at the finished model, and then I’d demolish it and move on to the next one, getting better each time.”
While many children enjoy play-building, school has a nasty habit of stamping out those early creative instincts. Not every school, and not every teacher, recognizes budding engineers or architects. Or why context is so important to young people entering the education system. Marc couldn’t help but rebel.
“I never understood the why of school,” Marc said. “Teachers would tell me to do this or that without explaining why, so the experience never clicked with me. So I only put in enough effort to avoid getting expelled. I was an average student throughout school and university. But outside, I thrived.”
Only one teacher influenced Marc. Can you guess which subject? Yes, science. An early lesson in the power of experimentation, of testing and proving theories, foreshadowed Marc’s current success.
“The only teacher I ever liked was my final year science teacher,” Marc said. “He came to a class one day with an apple in his left hand and a piece of paper in his right. ‘Which one will touch the floor first if I release them both at the same time?’ he asked. It was the first time a teacher gave me a real problem to solve.”
Can I Interest You in Some Magical Boots, Sir?
While his academic record slumped, Marc thrived outside of the classroom where he could put his maker sensibilities to the test. His workshop switched from the physical realm of his home to the digital world of Azaroth in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. As a teen, he’d spend hours building items to sell on the World of Warcraft marketplace – making a little profit, too.
“I spent most of my teens as an engineer in World of Warcraft,” Marc said. “I’d mine minerals and other raw materials to make boots that would help you walk faster or a weapon with a special power. It was building, but in the digital world, and then I’d sell them for gold or swap them for other valuable items.”
You could argue this was Marc’s first entry into digital entrepreneurship. The game made him realize that building digital things could be as rewarding as anything physical. Maybe he could also build games? Or modifications? Or other applications? Computer science seemed the right thing to do, so when he left school, he went to university in Troyes to learn the languages that software speaks.
After three years of computer science, Marc should’ve been able to build almost any app he wanted to build. But structured education again proved disappointing. He seldom attended lectures and only graduated because his classmates were kind enough to share their notes and coursework.
Nevertheless, he finished university with a degree, some rudimentary coding skills, and an even more devout commitment to becoming an entrepreneur. It was time to build his billion-dollar business.
His first idea? Tinder for sports lovers.
“Say you want to play tennis or soccer,” Marc said, “you could search for other players who live nearby.”
It was, in Marc’s words, “a unicorn idea”. He invested all his time in prototyping the app, printing business cards, and designing logos. “I really thought I was going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg,” he said with a smile.
But ideas are nothing without execution. He hid his ideas from everyone – even potential customers. The opposite of his strategy today, which is to share everything for early feedback and product validation. All that time in pre-launch mode led to a kind of mental freeze.
“I focused too much on the idea and not whether it was any good,” Marc said. “About a year into development, I met someone who asked me, ‘How are you going to make money?” I couldn’t answer. I’d never thought about making money in the whole year of building the app. It triggered something in me, and within a week, I gave up on the idea and moved to a new country, frustrated with myself.”
The problem, Marc realized, was that ideas can look great on paper, but without testing and sharing them with your peers, you can become blind to their faults. Marc blames his university days for many things. Not just the partying and early starts that caused his health to suffer, but also the failure of the academic institution for not preparing him to succeed as an entrepreneur.
“I can’t help thinking that university is just a loss of time for people like me,” Marc says. “I think it’s a mindset thing. In university, a teacher decides whether you did something right or wrong. But the real world doesn’t work this way. No one can tell you whether your business is going to work or not. In the end, you make things, and people decide whether or not to buy them. No boss decides that for you.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking Marc is anti-education (at least anti-formal education). The truth, however, isn’t so simple. It’s not that he believes educators have nothing to teach, only that cookie-cutter syllabuses underserve practically-minded students. And it took six years for him to realize that success in entrepreneurship takes many forms.
It’s not just classroom-bound academics telling you what to do, Marc argues. A quick tour of social media reveals thousands of opinionated, self-proclaimed experts who believe they – and they alone – hold the key to success. If that were true, wouldn’t they all say the same thing?
“Social media, TV, classrooms, boardrooms – all noisy mediums with few meaningful signals,” Marc said. “People love to give their opinions, saying what they think is important, but very few practice what they preach. To learn who to listen to, find out how they spend their free time.”
Re-learning How to Be an Entrepreneur
Fresh from the failure of his Tinder for sports lovers, Marc was feeling low. His first brilliant idea had turned to dust in his clumsy, misguided fingers. How could he start again? What could he do differently? The Tinder idea failed because he’d been overprotective. Maybe building in public was the answer.
“Some entrepreneurs think ideas are secrets to be jealously guarded,” Marc said. “I’ve learned that it’s the opposite. Ideas don’t matter. Execution does. And the earlier you share your idea, the better. Then you’re going to shape a product for customers and not for you.”
Building huts in the forest or LEGO cities in your bedroom can be a bit lonely. Marc had allowed his inner adventurer to eschew the entrepreneurship community to preserve his (unvalidated) idea. By building in public, he hoped to learn from people who’d built and scaled businesses before.
“When I started building on Twitter, I met people like Pieter Levels and Danny Postma,” Marc said. “For example, Danny Postma sent me a message saying, ‘Hey, I’m in Bali, do you want to hang out?’ And he became my friend and has always been super helpful. We would spend hours chatting at a restaurant, and he would suggest things for me to try. I’m so grateful for that.”
With the support of his peers, Marc began building small projects in public to test his ideas. He even sold some of them on Acquire.com. No longer chasing unicorns, Marc is content just building things. He doesn’t want the hassle of employing and managing staff, developing strategy, and so on.
“Ship fast, make some revenue, and then move on by selling it on Acquire,” he recommends. “Let someone who knows the market better than you take your business to another level while giving you some life-changing money for a year or two. Buy some freedom to keep building and experimenting until you find a product that better fits you as a founder.”
Marc followed this strategy across 16 startups in six years, often building two or three a year. ShipFast is his latest and most profitable. A direct result of his new style of entrepreneurship, ShipFast is essentially everything a founder needs to launch an app. He’d spent years building the same things – authentication systems, payment links, and so on – and felt other entrepreneurs might benefit from his templates.
“I made a simple toolbox to help you launch startups faster,” Marc said. “I share the code, SEO, email templates, database, payment setups – everything. Instead of weeks, you can launch in days. Developers love it. Today, I grow it simply by sharing my experience on Twitter and adding new features and side projects. Last month, for example, I built a logo maker. I also do affiliate marketing.”
You Can Do It Too
What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?
Everyone has an opinion. Heck, I’ve even had a go in this article. Perhaps the answer lies not in what other people tell you, or in some college syllabus, but in examining how an entrepreneur behaves.
“The first four years of entrepreneurship were pretty hard for me, financially and mentally,” Marc said. “I could’ve avoided that if I’d just accepted failure as part of entrepreneurship. If I’d let go of the need for expert validation instead of customer validation. I’m sure there are people out there reading this who feel the same as I did, and I want to share alternatives that hopefully inspire them to do the same.”
Marc plans to start a YouTube channel to do just that. Education is important, he argues, but for some people, it’s best done outside of the classroom and beyond a teacher’s imperious gaze. Marc’s story offers an alternative route to success, and with ShipFast, the tools to help aspiring founders get started.
To anyone who’s been told they’d never amount to anything, or that the best ideas must be validated by authority voices, Marc advises, “Ignore the noise, and let customers be your guide.”